Boston latest big city to take stand against facial recognition software

It’s sadly not surprising that the first false arrest attributed to faulty facial recognition was of a black man in Michigan.

Fast Company:

Boston on Wednesday banned municipal use of facial recognition technology, becoming the largest East Coast city to do so, public radio station WBUR reports.

“Boston should not be using racially discriminatory technology and technology that threatens our basic rights,” said city council member Michelle Wu at a Wednesday hearing, CNET reports.

Facial recognition technology has fallen under heavy criticism, with numerous research reports finding the technology does relatively poorly at recognizing people who aren’t white men. IBM recently announced it would stop offering “general purpose” facial recognition software, and Microsoft and Amazon both announced moratoriums on offering such technology to police.

Boston joins neighboring municipalities Somerville, Cambridge, and Brookline in barring local agencies from using the technology. Other cities, including Oakland and San Francisco in California, already ban the technology as well.

The new ordinance drew praise from civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which in a tweet called attention to Robert Williams, a Black man living in Michigan who was arrested after being falsely matched by such software to someone captured in surveillance footage.

City officials are still allowed to use facial recognition to unlock their own devices, and they can still use the technology to automatically spot faces to redact from photos, CNET reports.

Why it’s hot:

1. We’ve talked about inherent bias in AI before, but whether or not to use it has largely been left up to tech companies and the market. Major municipalities have been reluctant to outright ban the use of facial recognition algorithms in surveillance and policing until recently (maybe because mass surveillance is super appealing to governments looking for a cheap way to police the population). Current events could be turning the tide toward a more just and less dystopian future…but maybe this is just a bump in the road for facial recognition.

2. It’s telling that the current complaints lobbed at facial recognition technology focus on its problems with bias, but focus less on its fundamental problems concerning civil liberties and privacy. Maybe because it’s hard to notice until it affects us. Also maybe because those apps using it are just too much fun.

Source: Fast Company